At the Sydney Couple and Family Specialists we work with a lot of families where there is a teen who is self-harming. Self-harm can be by cutting, burning, pulling out hair or other types of self inflicted wounds on the body. Usually there is mental health illness which is the underlying cause of the self-harm. Occasionally we also see teens who have self-harmed because their friend is self-harming and they are encouraged to try it. The act of self-harming can be addictive and become a coping strategy when a teen is stressed or overwhelmed.
If my teenager is self-harming does this mean they will attempt suicide?
Many parents are understandably very worried that their self-harming teen will try to suicide. The two actions are usually motivated by different things: self-harming is usually a way to relieve stress. It is not necessarily a ‘practice’ attempt to commit suicide.
The teen may also be suicidal, but self-harming does not mean the teen wants to end their life.
It is still very important that the self-harming is managed because it can lead to higher risk of suicide.
Most self-harm is by cutting, usually on the upper thighs and inside arms. In the majority of cases, these cuts will be light and teens will try to cover them up so parents and others don’t notice them. In extreme cases of self-harm the cuts will require medical attention – sometimes a trip to hospital. The more extreme the self-harm,the higher the risk of suicide. Why? Because self-harm is an indicator of stress and low mood – and these things put teens at risk of suicide.
Can Family Therapyhelp my self-harming teen?
Yes. There are two types of counselling required to help your teen to move away from self-harming.
The first is teen or adolescent counselling. Aspecialist counsellorwill work with your teen to identify what triggers their desire to self-harm. Then, they’ll work out other ways the teen can manage their stress. Many teens who self-harm have a problem with emotional regulation. They are usually the teens who appear to be surrounded by or are in some kind of drama all of the time with their friends. Or, they’re the teens who have trouble managing social interactions with their peers. And typically they are also struggling with family relationships. Helping the teen to manage their emotions and react to social stress with their peer group is the most effective way to help a self-harming teen move away from hurting themselves.
The other form of counselling recommended for self-harming teens is Family Therapy. When a teen is self-harming, there are usually other things going on in the family which are contributing to the self-harming behaviour. Often there is a history of family trauma, high conflict or difficult relationships between family members. Family Therapy can help repair relationships and settle conflicts.A specialist Family Therapist can help parents become aligned in their parenting styles, and reduce the level of stress and conflict in a home. In doing so, they ease the underlying stresses which can lead to a teen self-harming behaviour.
What happens in self-harming Counselling?
If you discover that your teen is self-harming it is really important to determine whether this is from an underlying mental health illness, peer group pressure or to do with family stress. And of course, it’s really important that you know what you can do to help your child.
In family therapy self-harm counselling, the Family Therapist will first meet with the parents and the teen to gain an understanding of the problem as each person understands it.
From there, the Family Therapist will want to see the self-harming teen on their own for a few sessions to gain their trust and to ascertain how best to help the teen. The teen will be given strategies to help reduce the self-harm and any underlying mental health illnesses will be worked on.
In family therapy self-harm counselling, the Family Therapist will also work with the parents to help them know how to respond to their teens stress. Parents will also be given guidelines on how to respond to the self-harm incidents and how to communicate with their teen when they have suspected the young person has self-harmed. There is a strong educational element to this work for everyone in the family. Parents learn many strategies from a Family Therapist about how to stop the self-harming behaviour.
Finally, the teen and his/her parents will be brought together to work on the underlying problems that lead the teen to self-harm. And where the parents are shown how to respond to the distress their teen shows and the teen is also coached on how to communicate their distress in a healthier way to r parents – remember self-harm is a way of communicating distress.
Does Family Therapy work for self-harming teens?
The short answer is yes.
At the Sydney Couple and Family Specialists we see many teens and their families where the teen is self-harming and sometimes in a significant and dangerous way. In 90% of cases we see,underlying mental illnesses that has not been treated properly is leading to the self-harming behaviour. These mental illnesses are treated. And the Family Therapist helps everyone in the family make the necessary behavioural changes to reduce stress. If parents are not included in the therapy, then the chances of the teen becoming well is decreased significantly. This is why Family Therapy as opposed to individual adolescent therapy is so effective.
Why Self-Harming Counselling with the Sydney Couple and Family Specialists?
Three out of the four Therapists at Sydney Couple and Family Specialists are trained to work with self-harming teens. These Therapists are experienced Family Therapists who have worked with teens in different settings – i.e. as school counsellors and crisis organisations which work with high risk teens as well as private practice. We are all highly skilled in working with self-harm.
Once you have commenced Family Therapy, you will notice the work is far more directive and educational than you might have experienced with an individual Therapist. This is because Family Therapy training and methods are different.
We understand that is is crucial the self-harming teen becomes well and back on track as soon as possible. We also work collaboratively with other professionals to get your teen well. The work is fact paced and highly supportive. There are fast improvements. And parents are supported and empowered by the process.